🔒 Zuma’s Zondo testimony and how to spot a liar

Former President Jacob Zuma touted by the media in South Africa as the Zondo commission into state capture’s star witness, came out guns blazing in his testimony. If anybody expected a repentant Zuma spilling the beans, they have been mistaken. What Zondo got, was Zuma talking for almost three hours, often clearing his throat, indignant that anybody could accuse him of any wrongdoing and denying that the Guptas were involved in the appointment of Cabinet ministers. He said that there was nothing wrong in his relationship with the Guptas. Zuma said the accusations against him were part of a plan to get rid of him and that there was also a plot to kill him. The former President accused one of his former Cabinet Ministers, Ngoako Ramatlhodi who told Zondo that Zuma had auctioned off the country to the Guptas, of being an apartheid spy. This prompted Ramatlhodi to challenge Zuma to a lie-detector test. Zuma’s indignation appears to have convinced some of the almost 17,000 people who were following his testimony on YouTube. But is it believable and what does his speech and body language reveal? How do you spot a liar? – Linda van Tilburg

Could anything be read from the subtle clues Zuma gave during his testimony from whether he was speaking the truth? His tweet on the night before his appearance at the state capture commission showed a defiant Zuma mocking the chant used against him in Parliament, “Zuma must fall”. He has been known to giggle or laugh when things got tough in Parliament.

Psychological research suggests that liars give off subtle clues when they are not being truthful, no matter how good they are at lying. They reveal signs of stress. According to Medium there are signs in body language, facial expression and speech to look out for.

One of the most obvious is the mouth cover, “an instinctive gesture that first appears in early childhood” used by liars to instinctively prevent them from uttering lies or the image of speaking no evil. This applies to both the speaker and the listener. In the case of the listener, it is an indication that the person may feel that he is not being told the truth. It is interesting that Judge Zondo had his hand over his mouth in many instances when the camera turned on him during ex-President Zuma’s testimony.

Other gestures are the ‘shhh’ motion when the finger is placed vertically on the lips, the nose touch and the eye rub, which are seen by psychologists as “an attempt by the brain to block out the deceit” or what is also called ‘speak no evil.’ Liars are also known to touch their ears, a symbolic gesture to ‘hear no evil’, they scratch their neck and cover vulnerable parts of the body. It can also be a sign of doubting or disagreeing with what has been said. And their collars suddenly become a tad too tight; they start pulling at their shirts and ties and their breathing changes.

Other tell-tale signs are fingers in the mouth as if they need reassurance, a sudden change of head movement or a rigid response with no movement at all. Shuffling feet is also a give-away, showing that the potential liar wants to leave the situation or holding a stare without blinking, which could be seen as an attempt to control and manipulate. “When people tell the truth, most of them will occasionally shift their eyes around.”

But it is not only body language that could give liars away, speech can also be revealing. In a prepared testimony, it could include the repetition of words and phrases, saying over and over, “I didn’t, I didn’t and “no, never, none.” Liars will also get defensive and use words like ‘honestly and truthfully’. They could also become emotional to try to put you off.

Medium gives other clues in speech that could give liars away. Providing too much information is also one of them and trying to distance themselves from events is another. Liars try their best to distance themselves from the ‘scene’ using euphemisms, jargon and indirect statements.

Breathing more heavily could also be a sign of someone lying to you. “The liars are out of breath because their heart rate and blood flow change.” It is a sign of being nervous and may result in a higher voice. They also have to clear their throats quite often as that frog in the throat just won’t budge as “saliva dries up.”